ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Jenniina Nylund and Klára Hymlárová are optimistic that the St. Cloud State women's hockey team can move up in the WCHA standings this season. After two seasons of finishing last (seventh) in the WCHA, the Huskies went 3-1 in their last four games, went 6-12-1 overall and finished sixth in the conference.

"Every year, we are getting better and we didn't lose (almost) any forwards," said Hymlárová, whose team has 13 returning forwards. "We can keep going and keep doing the same stuff we did last year and get even better.

"We are happy that we have those three goalies," Hymlárová said of Emma Polusny, Sanni Ahola and Karlie Ries. "I feel like goalies are the most important (part) of the team. If you have good goalies, you have a good chance to win and be good."

They are also hopeful that they will have to take a break from the 2021-22 college season to represent their respective countries in at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, which take place Feb. 4-20.

"That's the biggest goal for me at this point," said Nylund, a 22-year-old forward from Pietarsaari, Finland. "I made the (Finnish) worlds team, so there's a chance I could make the (Olympics) team. I just need to work hard all year long and see what happens.

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"I bet that every girl has dreamed of playing in the Olympics. That would mean everything to me. I've been working hard for that."

Minnesota Duluth forward McKenzie Hewett (24) and St. Cloud State forward Klara Hymlarova (12) skate after the puck in the second period Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at Amsoil Arena. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Duluth forward McKenzie Hewett (24) and St. Cloud State forward Klara Hymlarova (12) skate after the puck in the second period Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at Amsoil Arena. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Nylund helped Finland win the bronze medal at the IIHF Women's World Championship that was held Aug. 20-31 in Calgary, Alberta. For the 22-year-old Hymlárová, it was the fifth time that she has played for the Czech Republic in the world championships.

"It's always special to play in worlds and represent your country. It's always a privelege and pleasure," said Hymlárová, a forward from Opava, Czech Republic. "This year was kind of weird because we had to play in August and it was moved. We were in a bubble and the only places we were supposed to go were the bus and the rink. So we couldn't go out of the city and that was kind of weird, but it's just how it is."

The world championship tournament for the women was originally supposed to be played in April in Nova Scotia and Halifax. Due to concerns due to the pandemic, it was rescheduled for May and then it was cancelled before being moved and rescheduled for August.

"It was a long process because the worlds got cancelled at first," Nylund said. "We had a long pre-camp for that tournament. Last summer, we had three camps and the pre-camp was almost two weeks and then we traveled to Canada and we had a five-day quarantine and a couple days to get ready for the tournament."

Forward Jenniina Nylund (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)
Forward Jenniina Nylund (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)

The tournament getting initially got cancelled in May so late that it almost caused more problems.

"We almost flew to Canada," Hymlárová said. "That was weird. Then they told us that they were going to try to stay with the team they made before. I've got a feeling that I was going to make the team again, but you never know.

"Normally, we don't have ice over June and July and we begin skating in August. We knew we had worlds. It was weird. I feel like I've played hockey the whole year and never had a month off. We found out in July when they send out the world roster that we were going."

During the tournament, Nylund and Hymlárová played against one another in quarterfinals game on Aug. 28. Nylund helped Finland to a 1-0 win.

"I've played against Klara in the U18 national team, but the first time at the senior level," Nylund said. "It was a tough game, a one-goal game. Good thing, it was (a win) for us this time. It's always fun to play against people you know."

Hymlárová helped the Czech Republic to a 4-0 record to win Group B in the preliminary round, only to lose in the quarterfinals despite outshooting the Finns 29-20.

"Our team was pretty good this year and it was pretty tough to lose 1-0 to Finland because I felt like that was the best game we played," she said. "We had so many chances and we didn't score a goal. That's what matters. When you don't score a goal, you don't win the game. I felt like we had a chance to win a medal this year."

Forward Klára Hymlárová (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)
Forward Klára Hymlárová (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)

Since coming back from the tournament, St. Cloud State head coach Steve Macdonald said he can see the residuals for the duo from playing on a national team in the world championship.

"The pace they play at, the way they shoot it and the way they're able to recognize plays. It elevates everybody here and the level of play," said Macdonald, who is beginning his third season as head coach. "To see St. Cloud State be represented at that level is pretty special.

"You see the work they put in every single day and you see them transform themselves from as a freshman and they have that commitment level, they have that desire to go represent their country at the world championships. This being an Olympic year, you have immense pride and respect for what they do and what they commit to. To see them go off on the world stage and playing against in the world, performing and playing, is just amazing."

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The waiting game

After the world championships, Finland is ranked third and has received an automatic bid to the Olympics and Nylund will be waiting to hear if she is named to the Olympic team. The Czech Republic is currently ranked eighth and will be looking to pick up one of three remaining spots in the Olympics.

The Czech Republic will play host to a four-team qualifying tournament that will be Nov. 11-14 and will also include Norway, Hungary and a qualifier from a tournament in October.

This month, Hymlárová and Nylund have been back preparing to open the college season with the Huskies. Nylund led St. Cloud State in goals (7) and points (12) in 19 games last season.

St. Cloud State's Jeniina Nylund (81) has been named to Finland's Senior National Team and will compete in the 2021 IIHF Women's World Championships that will be held Aug. 20-31 in Calgary, Alberta. Nyland, who a junior forward from Pietarsaari, Finland, has 19 goals and 46 points in 84 games going into the 2021-22 season for the Huskies. (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)
St. Cloud State's Jeniina Nylund (81) has been named to Finland's Senior National Team and will compete in the 2021 IIHF Women's World Championships that will be held Aug. 20-31 in Calgary, Alberta. Nyland, who a junior forward from Pietarsaari, Finland, has 19 goals and 46 points in 84 games going into the 2021-22 season for the Huskies. (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)

"Her compete level is extremely high and she's that power forward who has playmaking ability," Macdonald said of Nylund, who is beginning her fourth college season. "She can create time and space with pure power and her shot. A lot of her goals, it's a lot of speed down the wing with excellent hands and she's been working a lot on her (shot) release and it's starting to pay off.

"She had a great year last year. She's really worked on her fitness level and I think that's really helped her on the international level. She's a player that can play in a lot of different situations and can be a threat through her strength."

In 2019-20, Hymlárová was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team after leading the Huskies in assists (18) and points (26) before picking up six assists and seven points in 19 games last season.

"Even though she didn't put up as many points, we believe she became a better all-around player," Macdonald said. "She rounded out her game. She improved positioning defensively, she improved backchecking and her awareness. She's a player who needs to shoot more. She looks to pass first and she's our best passer and playmaker. She knows she needs to shoot more and I think we will see that out of her."

And he sounds optimistic that Hymlárová is lined up for a good season.

"Her hockey IQ — she's three steps ahead like a great chess player," Macdonald said. "She can compliment almost any style of player very well. She's extremely competitive, willing to block shots, play in the 'D' zone and has plays in every single situation. She's a player willing to sacrifice everything. Her commitment level, her passion and how hard she plays ... she's a player who makes everyone around her better."

St. Cloud State will have an exhibition game against Bemidji State at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. There will be no admission charge for fans to see the game.

The Huskies open the regular season at 6 p.m. Oct. 1 with a nonconference game against Lindenwood at the Brooks Center.

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